The most affordable BMW in the United States, during the middle years of the E36 platform, was the 318ti. A four-cylinder hatchback, it sold for about two-thirds the price of a six-cylinder 328 sedan or coupe.
In 1996, buyers could get a version with a huge canvas-covered sunroof, known as the California Edition, and that’s what I have found in a Denver-area self-service wrecking yard.
The California roof was similar to the big “ragtop” sunroofs on 1950s Volkswagen Beetles — sort of halfway between a regular sunroof and a full convertible. My excruciatingly hooptie 1958 Beetle had a roof like this, and it was handy for teenage passengers who wanted to stand up on the freeway and yell at occupants of other cars.
Later on, the California roof became an option on all 318tis. The mechanism appears to be in good shape, but no junkyard shoppers bought it during the several weeks it had been in the yard prior to these photographs.
The 318ti never achieved serious sales success in North America, though plenty of fully depreciated examples have ended up as nimble 24 Hours of Lemons race cars.
The base price on the 318ti was $20,560, or about $33,500 in 2018 dollars. That looked pretty cheap next to the $32,990 328is, but the 138-horsepower 318ti looked like less of a steal next to the $21,000 Acura Integra GS-R and its wild 170-horse engine (which, granted, drove the front wheels).
This one, like most BMWs sold in the United States after the middle 1980s, has an automatic transmission. Even with the big sunroof, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as fun to drive as the Integra GS-R or, for that matter, the $14,200 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 with manual transmission.
The compact E36s sold much better in Europe, where six-cylinder and diesel engines were available.